The Japanese government has something like that koyobun sakusei no yoryo, or the “Guidelines for Official Writing”. It’s basically a set of writing logs for government documents and public notices that haven’t been updated in a long time. The last revision took place as early as 1952, when documents were officially allowed to be written horizontally instead of in the more classic vertical orientation of Japanese texts.
But after 70 years, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has decided to make some changes, and one of the biggest is to officially allow Japanese government employees to use question marks and exclamation marks.
Question marks or exclamation marks have not been mentioned in the guidelines so far, with the conclusion that neither should be used in principle. This may seem like a major impediment to written communication, but none of the punctuation marks are native to the Japanese language, and so there are other ways to express the concepts. For example, when forming questions in Japanese, the syllable ka is attached to the end of a sentence and written like that ka, か in the phonetic hiragana script of the Japanese language, conveys that a question is being asked.
▼ Above: Anata wa ramen wo tabemashita./ You ate ramen.
Bottom: Anata wa ramen wo tabemashita ka./ Did you eat ramen?
In orthodox Japanese script, both sentences end with a period.
However, the updated guidelines, prepared by the Department’s Council on Cultural Affairs, recognize that there are times when the inclusion of a question mark or exclamation mark can make the meaning or emotion of a sentence clearer, e.g. For example, in writing a conversation, they are now approved for use in documents, public service announcements and public awareness/PR campaigns.
The ministry announced the new guidelines last Friday, and while it admits question marks and exclamation marks have already wormed their way into government compositions, they now have the official okay.
Source: Cultural Affairs Agency via Yomiuri Shimbun Online via Livedoor News via Jin
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